The Federal Government has been accused of “sitting on their hands” as Australians seeking COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are being “ripped off” after Scott Morrison ruled out making them free.
Testing clinics for COVID-19 are buckling under significant pressure across the nation as a wave of record-breaking Omicron infections continues to gain momentum.
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers has called for the government to act after Mr Morrison suggested free rapids were available at testing clinics, many of which are swamped with kilometres-long queues.
Should the federal government pay for rapid antigen tests?
“Obviously price is one of the big issues here – people are getting absolutely smashed, paying $30, $40 and $50 for a test that should be in the single digits of dollars – that’s because the government won’t empower the ACCC to do its work here,” Mr Chalmers told Today.
“The GST is an issue that needs to be explored here – the government needs to explain why Rapid Antigen Tests are treated differently to some of the other essential aspects of our health system but the primary issues here are access and affordability – those are Scott Morrison’s responsibility.
“He likes to talk about taking personal responsibility – it is time he took responsibility for this mess that he’s made of Rapid Antigen Tests.
“Too many people are either going undiagnosed or being ripped off, wandering through our shops and chemists when they are contagious and vulnerable, and this must end.”
One of Australia’s leading pharmacy chains has urged the Federal Government to drop the GST on rapid antigen tests after Mr Morrison said he would not make the free out of fear of undercutting businesses.
Chemist Warehouse director Mario Tascone has joined the chorus of people demanding for rapid testing to be made more accessible and affordable, suggesting the GST cut as an option to relieve pressure on retailers.
“We are getting swamped with demand for these Rapid Antigen Tests,” Mr Tascone told Today.
“We sell a pack of five Rapid Antigen Tests for $50, – the average family are buying two of these packs at a time, so losing the GST brings a $100 purchase down to $90 and that’s a $10 saving for 10 tests.”
Mr Tascone said Chemist Warehouse stocked most stores with half a million kits across the country over the weekend, but they disappeared within a matter of hours.
He said it’s highly likely this will happen again when stocks are replenished in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland today and tomorrow.
PM says government has spent enough in COVID-19 support
The prime minister has continued resisting calls to make rapid tests free, saying he does not want to undercut Aussie businesses selling them.
Yesterday, Mr Morrison said the government could not keep putting money into the COVID-19 pandemic after “investing hundreds of billions of dollars to get through the crisis” over the past two years.
“We’re now at a stage of the pandemic where you can’t just make everything free, because when someone tells you they want to make something free, someone’s always going to pay for it and it will be you.”
But pressure is building on the Prime Minister from all ends, as availability of the tests continues to be a major issue for Australia compared to other countries.
Experts such as Grattan Institute health program director and former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett said Mr Morrison’s thinking was flawed.
They argued the public health benefit of providing free rapid tests would outweigh the cost.”More people will use them for sure,” Mr Duckett told 9News.
“That means people who are infectious now and haven’t got any symptoms will actually know they are infectious and stay at home which will actually reduce the spread.”
The economist slammed a lack of foresight, comparing the latest testing issues to the bungled early vaccine rollout, and called for Australia to follow the United Kingdom’s lead in not just supplying free tests but recording the results.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was “common sense” not to provide an “an infinite supply of a free good”, arguing it would be impossible to meet demand.
“If there were an unconstrained flow of completely unpriced products, so as there was an infinite supply to an infinite number of people, then of course that demand couldn’t be met,” he said.